Pattern of Wet, Heavy Snow Continues Through December
Early Monday morning after the Thanksgiving holiday, a winter storm brought wet snow and power outages to Vermont. WEC territory saw six to eight inches of heavy precipitation on average, and far more in pockets. More than 34,000 outages were reported across Vermont. WEC counted 6,287 outages, affecting approximately half the membership. WEC, Green Mountain Power (GMP), Vermont Electric Co-op (VEC), several municipal utilities, and mutual aid crews worked Monday and Tuesday, November 27 and 28, to restore power. The last WEC members had their power restored Thursday, November 30.
“We had outage reports come in all day Monday,” reported General Manager Louis Porter. As WEC and mutual aid crews made headway in one section of Co-op territory, new outages would occur elsewhere, generally caused by the weight of snow causing trees to bend or break near the lines. As a result, even as repairs were made, the number of known WEC outages rose over the course of the day Monday. The Walden substation lost power; when it was restored around 11 am, crews discovered several more areas requiring repair downstream of the substation.
A week later, on December 4, more than 12,000 Vermont households again woke up to no power – almost a third of them WEC members. This time, wet, heavy snow affected municipal utilities, as well as GMP, VEC, and WEC, and sections of Vermont lost internet. And once again, WEC crews worked around the clock, for several days, to restore lines damaged by trees bending and breaking under very wet snow.
A week later, on December 11, another winter storm. Central Vermonters could have been forgiven for thinking they were trapped in a scenario like that in the classic Harold Ramis movie Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray’s character is forced to endlessly repeat the same day. However, this time, fewer WEC members – about 1,000 – endured another outage, and all were brought back online within 24 hours. “This storm hit our territory differently, and we were able to restore power faster than our neighboring utilities. Which meant we were able to supply mutual aid crews to help Vermont Electric Co-op restore power to their members,” said Porter.
Why are some outages longer than others?
For one thing, Porter pointed out, weather systems land hard where WEC members live: along north-south ridges of mountains, clouds dump precipitation and wind picks up speed. In WEC’s rural territory, which averages eight members per mile of line, repair often takes longer than in more densely populated areas. Lines travel over miles of ledge and through corridors of shaggy and weather-susceptible white pine in order to reach a few homes. Each “event,” or place where damage is located on a line, may take crews hours to reach and repair, and in wet snow, there may be hundreds of events to locate and fix. Meanwhile, each repair may restore power to only a few members at a time.
But other utilities that service rural territories have the same challenges, as VEC did in the second December storm of this year. Last March was Green Mountain Power’s turn, with those in southern Vermont seeing an outage that left some without power for more than four days.
Distributed electricity flows from the substation to the “end of the line:” the farther away from a substation a member lives, the more likely it is there is damage to the line before it reaches their house. All that upstream damage must be fixed before the line serving that last house can be re-energized. The metering upgrades WEC has planned will eventually give the Co-op better information about where outages are located.
In the meantime, the Co-op is working to improve its outage communication and give members without power estimates as to when their power will be restored. The homepage of wec.coop runs a banner and frequent updates to keep members informed about outage numbers and where crews are focusing their restoration efforts.
In an outage, these are useful resources:
- wec.coop/outage-center for WEC-specific updates and WEC’s outage map
- vtoutages.org for outage updates from all major state utilities
- newengland511.org/region/Vermont for road conditions
- Call 211 to access shelter, food, or other needs